Democrat Joe Sestak offered more praise than Republican Pat Toomey, saying he supports the president's proposals to expand tax breaks for businesses, but qualified his support of a $50 billion plan to rebuild roads, railways and runways, saying it should not add to the deficit.
Cutting spending or closing tax breaks should pay for the transportation spending, Sestak said. But he put an emphasis on speeding the business tax breaks through Congress. Combined with a $30 million package of tax breaks and loans for small businesses currently stalled in the Senate, the steps promise a more immediate hiring jolt.
"It is the small business (package) that I say, 'Yes, go for that,' because it's a more near-term job creation that we have to have the immediate focus on," Sestak said, speaking after a campaign event with organized labor leaders at an industrial complex outside Harrisburg.
Toomey, who was in Philadelphia on Wednesday to accept the endorsement of the 41,000-member state Fraternal Order of Police lodge, opposes the president's transportation infrastructure spending plan, preferring instead to cut taxes and government spending to spur hiring.
Toomey said in a statement that he is encouraged that Obama wants to allow businesses to write off new equipment purchases, but says more tax cuts are necessary.
"Unfortunately, with (national) unemployment at 9.6 percent, his proposal does not go far enough in offering the kind of job-creating tax relief we need," Toomey said.
Obama this week outlined plans to expand and permanently extend a research and development tax credit that lapsed in 2009; allow businesses to write 100 percent of their investments in equipment and plants off their taxes through 2011; and pump $50 billion into the economy for highway, rail, airport and other infrastructure projects.
Toomey and Sestak are in a close race heading into the fall campaign season, with the race's major themes revolving around the economy and the national debt. Toomey, 48, is a Lehigh Valley businessman and former three-term member of Congress who headed a Washington, D.C.-based free-market advocacy group, Club for Growth.
Sestak, 58, is a former Navy vice admiral and two-term U.S. House member from the Philadelphia suburbs, as well as the highest-ranking former military officer ever elected to Congress.
The election is Nov. 2. Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate seat is now open because Sestak beat the longtime incumbent, Arlen Specter, in May's Democratic primary.
A key issue over which Sestak and Toomey have clashed is the effectiveness of Obama's economic stimulus package that Congress approved in February 2009.
Toomey has attacked the approximately $800 million plan as a massive waste of money and a failure because the nation has fewer jobs and more debt now than it did when the measure was approved. Cutting taxes by the same amount would have prompted businesses to hire more people, he has said.
Democrats say the stimulus package blunted the force of the recession and point to a May report by the Congressional Budget Office that said the stimulus had increased the number of people with jobs by 1.2 million to 2.8 million.
"What we did and every economist across the political spectrum has said we slowed the hemorrhaging of jobs," Sestak said Wednesday. "In fact, instead of 700,000 jobs being lost per month, we've actually in the last eight months created 654,000 jobs."